This column was written by David Corn.
In a weekend posting I asked if it was time to get ready for the Karl Rove frog-march? The question was prompted by a Newsweek article by reporter Michael Isikoff that disclosed the first documentary evidence showing that Rove revealed to a reporter that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. In a July 11, 2003 email that Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper sent to his bureau chief, Cooper noted he had spoken to Rove on "double super secret background" and that Rove had told him that Wilson's "wife...apparently works at the agency on wmd issues." "Agency" means CIA. This is not good news for Rove and the White House.
The email -- which Time had turned over to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the Plame/CIA leak -- may not be enough to prompt Fitzgerald to indict Rove. Under the narrowly written Intelligence Identities Protect Act, Fitzgerald would have to show that Rove knew Valerie Wilson (a.k.a. Valerie Plame) was working at the CIA under cover -- that is, as a secret employee -- which she was. But Fitzgerald still could build such a case upon other evidence. And Rove also could be in legal peril if his previous testimony to Fitzgerald is contradicted by this email -- or the other material Time surrendered, over Cooper's objections, to Fitzgerald or by Cooper's forthcoming testimony to Fitzgerald's grand jury. (Last week, Cooper declared his source, presumably Rove, had given him permission to testify before the grand jury.)
But let's put aside the legal issues for a moment. This email demonstrates that Rove committed a firing offense. He leaked national security information as part of a fierce campaign to undermine Wilson, who had criticized the White House on the war on Iraq. Rove's overworked attorney, Robert Luskin, defends his client by arguing that Rove never revealed the name of Valerie Plame/Wilson to Cooper and that he only referred to her as Wilson's wife. This is not much of a defense. If Cooper or any other journalist had written that "Wilson's wife works for the CIA" -- without mentioning her name -- such a disclosure could have been expected to have the same effect as if her name had been used: Valerie Wilson would have been compromised, her anti-WMD work placed at risk, and national security potentially harmed. Either Rove knew that he was revealing an undercover officer to a reporter or he was identifying a CIA officer without bothering to check on her status and without considering the consequences of outing her. Take your pick: in both scenarios Rove is acting in a reckless and cavalier fashion, ignoring the national security interests of the nation to score a political point against a policy foe.
This ought to get Rove fired -- unless he resigns first.
Can George W. Bush countenance such conduct within the White House? Consider what White House press secretary Scott McClellan said on September 29, 2003, after the news broke that the Justice Department was investigating the leak. McClellan declared of the Plame/CIA leak, "That is not the way this White House operates. The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing."
Apparently, it is how the White House operated -- or at least how Rove operated. If he violated White House rules (and presidential expectations) that prohibit such skullduggery, he should be booted.
McClellan also maintained at the time that "the president knows" that Rove wasn't involved in the leak. And he said that the allegation that Rove was involved in this leak was "a ridiculous suggestion" and "it is simply not true."
McClellan was wrong. Did that mean that Rove had lied to McClellan about his role in this? That Rove had also lied to Bush? Or was McClellan knowingly misinforming the public? If the latter, then there should be two resignations.
Days later, Bush took a clear stand on the Plame/CIA leak. He said:
There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. If there's leaks out of my administration, I want to know who it is, and if the person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of.
According to Cooper's email, Rove did leak classified information, wittingly or not. Did he share that fact with Bush? If McClellan can be believed, Rove did not. If that's true, Bush should dismiss Rove for holding out on him. But if Rove did talk to Bush about his participation in the leak, what did he tell Bush? And what actions did Bush take? Did Rove tell Bush how he had come to know about Valerie Wilson's position at the CIA? Did he disclose to Bush who else knew about it? Did he tell his boss whether anyone else was passing this information to reporters? In the first column that disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA identity, Bob Novak referred to "two" senior administration officials? So who in addition to Rove might have revealed this information to Novak?
Bush also said at the time that any government official with knowledge of the leak should "come forward and speak out." Rove certainly did not follow that presidential order. He should be pink-slipped for that, too.
But before Rove is cast out of the White House, Bush ought to demand that he come clean and -- if he has not done so -- tell Bush everything that happened with this leak. Then Bush should "come forward and speak out" and share the details with the American public. And an apology to Valerie and Joseph Wilson would be a nice touch.
Fitzgerald is handling the Plame/CIA leak as a criminal matter, as he should. That's his job. But the leak -- whether a crime or not -- was serious wrongdoing. The White House has taken no steps to address that in the two years since the leak occurred. But it need not wait for Fitzgerald to conclude his investigation. Rove may end up not guilty of a crime, but he is guilty of significant misconduct. With the disclosure of this smoking email, Bush has no excuse for inaction. Newspaper editorial boards and members of Congress (okay, Democratic members of Congress) ought to be howling for a White House response to the news that its current deputy chief of staff revealed national security information to a reporter in order to discredit a critic. The only appropriate response for such a thuggish infraction of White House policy and common decency would be to send Rove back to Texas.
David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation.
By David Corn
Reprinted with permission from The Nation